body image / The World of Body Image

The World of Body Image: Tess Holliday


Plus-size models. I’m sure you’ve seen them before, they’re the ones who are usually still thinner than half the population just with bigger boobs and bums. ‘Curvy’, they’re often called. They’re like the hot slim models, just with a few extra beauty expectations slapped on them. Sometimes around a size 12 to 16, they’re never referred to as models, always plus-size models. Gotta remember the plus or, God forbid, we might start thinking anything over a size 10 is normal.

So I was pleased to see Tess Holliday burst onto the scene. She’s had some pretty major modelling contracts, and she’s a UK size 22. Of course, this has not gone down well with most people, especially Daily Mail readers who are intent on filling comments sections with hundreds of observations on the dangers of obesity. Oh, those lovely people who care so much about everyone else’s health.

Tess started the hashtag #effyourbeautystandards and has been inspiring body positivity around the world. She stands for body confidence – being happy in your own skin no matter what that looks like. Yet people seem to think she is a walking advert for obesity and that because of her everyone is going to start gorging on cake, getting heart disease, diabetes and cancer; they’ll take over our hospitals and drain all the money in the NHS and die and…blah blah blah. I hate to say this, but it can (and will) happen to people irrelevant of their size or health. It’s called death and it’s as integral to our existence as being born.


The size of Tess’s body, or anyone’s body for that matter, is nobody else’s business. Even if it was, do they really think fat shaming is going to inspire her to lose weight? Judging anyone else on their shape, size, tattoos, what they choose to wear, hair colour – anything – is ignorant and small-minded. If you have nothing better to do than write nasty internet comments about a fat person, then you seriously need to get a fucking life. Pointing out things that are wrong with other people’s bodies isn’t going to make them change, or make your life any better.

The thing I admire about Tess is her determination. She must have had to overcome so much hatred to get to where she is now. It’s so hard not to let bullies get to you, especially when you’re young. There weren’t people around like her when I was growing up so I had no role models who said being different was okay. Everyone said that if you’re a bit larger than the rest, or shorter, or more ‘alternative’, then you’re gross and worthless. You’ll never get anywhere in life: you’re useless. Tess has done an incredibly brave thing by saying a big ‘fuck you’ to all of that, and that scares people. If fat women think they’re worthy of happiness, what is the world coming to? Fat people aren’t allowed to be happy or successful, they’re meant to be at home eating chips staring longingly at the thin people on TV.

Tess isn’t perfect; I know that. Even she says that. Like many human beings, sometimes she makes mistakes. Sometimes some of her words are questionable, like her sweeping generalization about black men (which she later apologised for). She’s a somewhat unexpected role model, and it can’t be easy constantly having her words scrutinized by the media. I don’t know Tess Holliday personally so it’s not my place to judge the things she said but I personally don’t believe there was any malicious intent behind her words. In a world full of racism, we surely should be able to tell the difference behind a flippant comment and flat out hatred. Her influence on the body positive movement far outweighs her mistakes in my opinion. Anyone who firmly stands up for what they believe in is going to generate split opinions, but there’s no doubt she has helped and inspired many people who have struggled with body image problems.

She provides a long overdue balance to the ‘size 0’ model culture. A fat woman models some clothes and it causes outrage, yet lots of skeletal women have long reigned our catwalks with hardly any backlash. They’re all over the internet in the form of ‘thinspiration’, telling people that to be happy in life you have to be thin. I don’t see Tess telling anyone that you have to be fat to be happy. She just says it’s ok to be you, whoever you are.

Tess is working to promote body confidence for everyone, and although she’s brought a lot of hatred to the surface, she’s helping (along with lots of other wonderful body positivity advocators!) people to realise the damaging effect of the beauty standards in our society.

Despite all the backlash, Tess Holliday has kept going. Like her or hate her, she’s here to stay.


Mel Ciavucco
Author. Blogger. Screenwriter. Feminist.
Likes cooking, yoga and cinema but not all at the same time.


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